The Clare Spark Blog

May 4, 2012

Charles Murray Dreaming

Perhaps the most interesting items in Charles Murray’s book talk to members of the David Horowitz Freedom Center on April 30, 2012, were 1. His recommending the educational theories of E. D. Hirsch (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/E._D._Hirsch) and McGuffey’s Readers (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/McGuffey%27s_Reader); and 2. His reluctance to answer the question from one attendee: “Why do upper-class [white, Hollywood, Left Coast] people support the Left?” (He did blame “political correctness” for its failure to demonize unmarried women e.g., families without fathers.)

Perhaps Murray did not want to get into a lengthy answer, but were I to be asked that question about progressives/liberals who support the leftism, statism, and the ostensible decay of a common white civic culture that worries Murray, I would simply point to the observable fact that corporatist liberalism was not concerned with popularizing revolutionary socialism, but was a calculated deceptive move to “the Left” in order to preserve upper-class wealth against the red specter that had been haunting Europe since the French Revolution. (See https://clarespark.com/2009/09/19/populism-progressivism-and-corporatist-liberalism-in-the-nation-1919/.) Indeed, FDR thought that it was a risible notion that he was a revolutionary, as his big business critics alleged until a bunch of them went over to Keynesian economics in 1942, inspired by such as Robert M. Hutchins and Harold Lasswell (https://clarespark.com/2010/06/19/committee-for-economic-development-and-its-sociologists/) .

As for Hollywood liberals, the answer should have been obvious to the questioner. Throughout history, class resentments have existed. The recent immigrants to the US who founded the big studios were hardly artistes, but were businessmen eager to make money by entertaining a mass audience, an audience that Protestant middle-class progressives had spurned unless they could be improved through uplift. (See the project to uplift “Marja” in https://clarespark.com/2009/11/13/supermen-wanted-early-freudians-and-the-mob/. ) Early Hollywood had no illusions about mass taste, and provided adventure, sex and violence to a readymade audience that already was alienated from snooty and exclusive nativist old families. The Mayers or Goldwyns or Laemmles and their movie or television offspring still adhere to populist feeling and a hefty dose of primitivism. Social realism and didacticism do not sell, except as a warning to other “liberals” that the natives are restless and gun toting, or that criminals may be running everything. But Dr. Murray is worried that the white working class is obese and watches too much television, as if the upper classes do not enjoy the more sophisticated adventures, romance, soft porn, escapism, and even artiness provided by the younger writers and producers, affected as they have been by counter-culture naughtiness, identification with Marlon Brando or James Dean, clever parodies, and fun.

In my view, the notion that there was once a common civic culture that united the white working class with upper-class elites (the theme of his talk) is wishful thinking.  Murray recommended his earlier book Losing Ground for its emphasis on family, vocation, passionate avocation, motherhood, community, and faith: these together would promote longevity. This is culture wars talk, and though some of it makes sense, I have the nagging feeling that Murray, like other moderates, is emphasizing human weakness and dependency, not independence and the critical thought I have presented on this website. (See this excerpt from Eros and the Middle Manager: https://clarespark.com/2010/01/02/jottings-on-the-culture-wars-both-sides-are-wrong/.)

November 5, 2010

Hamburger’s Separation of Church and State

Philip Hamburger, Professor of Law, Columbia U. Law School

Before reading this blog, I ask the reader to examine two separate accounts of Philip Hamburger’s book.

http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9B02E6D61131F935A35754C0A9649C8B63 (Peter Steinfels reviews Hamburger, 2002 in NYT.)

http://www.law.columbia.edu/media_inquiries/news_events/2007/December07/hamb_profile.  (Columbia Law School describes the controversy over Hamburger’s book., December 2007 issue of Columbia Law School Magazine.)

[My blog:]    In the conclusion to his 492 page study, Separation of Church and State, the author instructively contrasts two clashing visions of “liberty” (though not in terms that a libertarian would recognize). These paragraphs would seem to identify him as a neutral party to the culture wars (traditionalism versus secularism) that have inflamed the republic longer than we might think. I quote his paragraphs, then lay out the strange associations and claims that this Harvard-published book maintains.

[Hamburger, p. 485:]…[Summarizing Tocqueville] By inculcating morals, by encouraging mutual love and forgiveness, and by directing ambitions toward another world, religion could diminish injurious behavior, dissension, and distrust. Accordingly, it could reduce the necessity of civil coercion—a necessity that might otherwise lead a people to desire harsh or even tyrannical government. Religion could also establish a lasting foundation in public opinion for the various rights that seemed particularly vulnerable to fluctuations in popular sentiments. It thereby could temper the selfish passions and oppression to which republics were all too prone. Thus religion—specifically the Christianity inherited and shared by a community—seemed essential for the preservation of liberty.

[Hamburger, cont., p.485:]    Increasingly , however, this perspective coexisted with another, very different point of view, drawn from European experiences and fears—a perspective that survives most prominently in the writings of Thomas Jefferson. Together with expanding numbers of other Americans, Jefferson feared that clergymen, creeds, and therefore most churches undermined the inclination and ability of individuals to think for themselves. He worried that individuals would defer to their church’s clergy and creed in a way that would render them subservient to a hierarchy and would deprive them of intellectual independence. In such ways, the clerical and creedal religion of most churches appeared to threaten the individual equality and mental freedom that Jefferson increasingly understood to be essential for the citizens of a republic.

[Clare:] One might think from these excerpts from the chapter entitled “Conclusions” that the author had actually set up throughout his lengthy text discussions of Toqueville and Jefferson. But he had not. Rather, he created a genealogy for “American identity” that conflated his secularists with Roger Williams (unconscionably insulted and dismissed in the brief pages on his pathbreaking religion and politics); with Republican Jefferson’s political ambitions in the campaign of 1800 (in which he determined to defeat statist Federalists); with viciously anti-Catholic, anti-working class Protestants who forced compulsory free public education down our throats; with Know-Nothings, “Liberals,”“nativists,” “freethinkers”, “white supremacists,” “individualists,” and  “Americanists”; with Reform Jews, including Felix Frankfurter (!); with Unitarians; and most breakthtakingly, with the Ku Klux Klan, spending endless pages on the tricky Klansman SCOTUS Hugo Black and his fiery crosses (crosses that the author linked to the Statue of Liberty).

I try not to be paranoid, but this wild and undisciplined book could be a through-the-looking-glass rewrite of Disraeli’s novel Lothair (1870), in which the author describes an elaborate [ultramontane] Catholic plot to lure the fabulously wealthy hero (Lothair) away from Anglicanism, a conspiracy to restore the Pope as the supreme authority in Britain (along with his confiscated lands) that fails in the end. In Hamburger’s drama, however, the (undifferentiated) Catholics are the victims of (undifferentiated) Protestants and their white-sheeted knights.

Nowhere does the author examine whether or not the “secularists” had any reason to fear authoritarian religion as an obstacle to intellectual independence. Nowhere does he examine the propaganda churned out by elites since antiquity that declared the people incapable of the self-control and community spirit of their betters. Nowhere does he lay out the case law that addressed the (non-existent or illegitimate) separation of church and state. But what is most shocking is that in both of the reviews and summaries of the controversy linked above, what I have written about the iconographic program of this book is utterly absent, like Roger Williams himself, who was the true originator of the notion that church and state should and must be separated, that faith was an entirely private matter of individual conscience. (Herman Melville said the same in a marginal comment in Goethe’s autobiography, and also echoed Williams’s respect for native Americans and his questioning of what was to become the conquest theory of property.)

Another lacuna in the text is the vexed question of the taxation of Church property. As Keith Thomas wrote long ago in his Religion and the Decline of Magic (1971), one reason for the witch-hunts in seventeenth century England might have been this confusion: Who was responsible for charity and the protection of the poor and disabled? Was it to be the state or the church? And to bring Thomas’s  question up to date, if churches, public schools, universities, and non-commercial media are to be ideological weapons of one narrow politics—the crazy-making statist politics of “moderation” (a.k.a. round-the-clock “compromise”)– should taxpayers be asked to support them? Or should they compete in the marketplace of ideas? Hamburger never uses that expression, and I doubt that any Harvard UP editor suggested it to him. The major university presses are firmly committed to self-sacrifice, duty and service to the “community” above creativity and innovation. The “self” has been erased and “laissez-faire capitalism” reduced to a dirty conception.

(For a related blog, see https://clarespark.com/2009/07/04/unfinished-revolutions-and-contested-notions-of-identity/. ) Also https://clarespark.com/2009/11/22/on-literariness-and-the-ethical-state/. It will be clear that Hamburger is an advocate of the “living Constitution” that enhances the “positive state”–i.e., the ethical state. Cf. Mussolini’s Fascism.

July 1, 2010

The New/Old (anti) Americanism

Thomas Dixon, The Ku Klux Klan

This blog has a simple purpose: to distinguish between the ugly nativism (sometimes called 100% Americanism) that characterized an earlier America and that deserves to be repudiated, and the anti-Americanism propagated by the New Left and that reached its apogee in the election of Barack Obama, for some an act of reparation for the sins of white supremacy. For these and others the Obama presidency is the supreme outcome of the multiculturalism that New Leftists found agreeable in their long march through the institutions, including not only academe, but the mass media.

Everyone knows who the villains were as they flourished in the early twentieth century. Here are a few names that are most notorious:  Madison Grant, Lothrop Stoddard, Henry Pratt Fairchild, William McDougall, Henry Ford, and the novelist Thomas Dixon, author of the The Clansman and the screenplay for Birth of a Nation (enjoyed and praised by Woodrow Wilson in its White House screening).  After all, nativists argued, it was their ancestors who had tamed a continent in covered wagons, killed hostile Indians, fought the Civil War and blocked Reconstruction—that period of “misrule.” Dixon (see his fascist Flaming  Sword of 1939 and equally bizarre earlier novels) went so far as to argue that the Southern Scots-Irish race had fought and were decisive in the Revolutionary War against Britain, and their later descendants paternally protected the freedmen until nosy red unreconstructed Yankees tried to educate them, unleashing sexual chaos upon the land, and in the process killing good middle-class white folk.  Nativist propaganda helped pass the Immigration Act of 1924, and many a professor (John Higham for instance) made his reputation denouncing these bigots, while younger scholars  were training their students to despise the American past, finding it essentially racist, patriarchal, ecocidal, and capitalist/imperialist. That meant that American “identity” was demonic, we were all infected, and hence all American institutions must be denounced, and if possible, dismantled, with reparations delivered to all non-whites, here and everywhere.  Even the abolitionists were motivated by greed, it was alleged (and it is still argued). Enter “whiteness studies.” Exit a view of American history that looked to its promise, its freedoms, its largely successful (though co-opted) labor, feminist, and civil rights movements, and achievements in raising the living standards of millions.*

It was not just that all the “isms” (Indian removal, slavery, racism, etc.) were contested at the time when these events and institutions existed, but that capitalism (especially as manipulated by “the [accursed] Jews” ) was seen as the root cause of American evil, especially by organic conservatives masked as “progressives.” (Where is Charles Sumner in our historiography? See https://clarespark.com/2008/05/03/margoth-vs-robert-e-lee/, for an analysis of the contrasting rhetoric of such liberals as Sumner with that of Woodrow Wilson and other organicists whose view of governance is paternalistic and evocative of the unreconstructed Southern plantation owner.)

To conclude: the nativists reacting to mass immigration in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries mentioned above were politically defeated and marginalized (though some paleoconservatives are still noisily active). The New Left, however, though they were supposedly anti-Stalinist, taught and still teach a view of the U.S. that is identical with Stalinist and Nazi anti-American propaganda, for example that “Zionists” control America, and that “institutional racism” still exists under its maleficent aegis, as if a jewified, trigger-happy John Calhoun had just been elected as the President of a slavocracy. Now it is time for a more realistic view of the American past, neither idealizing it nor casting it into the pit.

*I left out environmentalism for two reasons: first, it has been infiltrated by communists and/or hippie-ish “deep ecologists”; second, I think the situation is even worse than most think, but then I have a strong science background (was instructed in ecology at Cornell). It is my impression that we don’t know enough about our impact on the environment to press ahead at the industrializing pace we have to date. And if America has failed in this respect, so has the rest of the planet.

Thomas Dixon II

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